What Actually Happens When You Walk 10,000 Steps a Day

written by MICHELLE KING
10,000 steps a day"
10,000 steps a day
Graphics by: Caitlin Schneider
Graphics by: Caitlin Schneider

A year ago, I decided to simplify my fitness routine. I was burned out from continuously changing my workouts to accommodate ever-evolving fitness trends. Instead of spending so much time and money exercising how social media told me I should, I wanted to create a lasting movement ritual that seamlessly fit into my day and improved my health. So, I started walking. Does walking 10,000 steps a day really make a difference? Read on to find out. 

Is 10,000 steps a day good?

Last spring, it seemed as though every longevity expert I came across touted the benefits of walking. From Dan Buettner discussing the movement habits of the world’s healthiest people to Jason and Colleen Wachob chatting about the science-backed benefits of daily strolls on the MindBodyGreen podcast, experts were continually highlighting walking as an essential wellness habit we all needed more of. 

Most of us understand the importance of exercise for health. However, many people don’t realize that an active lifestyle is as important as (if not more than) programmed workouts. In fact, many of the world’s healthiest people never go to the gym. Individuals living in The Blue Zones— regions of the world with lower rates of disease and longer life expectancy—don’t go to the gym. They move more throughout the day, strolling to coffee shops, tending their gardens, and going on evening walks with friends. These routines help them reach high daily step counts, which contributes to their overall improved health.  

Why I decided to walk 10,000 steps a day 

All this buzz about walking made me question my own exercise habits. Were those expensive, trendy workout classes that left me tired and resenting fitness the key to health, or should I take a more sustainable approach to movement? Eager to create an exercise habit I enjoyed, I started walking. 

How to get 10,000 steps a day

Walking 10,000 steps a day may sound daunting at first. But with a little planning, it can be an achievable goal. Most days, I reached 10,000 steps by adding three 30-minute walks to my routine. I typically completed my first walk in the morning with my dog and a cup of coffee in hand, my second walk after lunch, and my third walk before dinner with my husband. This new routine took some getting used to, but after a few weeks, it became just as habitual as brushing my teeth. One year later, I feel healthier and happier than ever before. Below are the results I experienced from walking 10,000 steps daily for one year. 

Can you lose weight by walking 10,000 steps a day?

In the past, I struggled to keep off excess weight. I would lose 5 pounds only to have it creep back on a few months later when I inevitably got tired of my exercise routine. Walking regularly helped me reach a weight I felt comfortable at and ensured I maintained that weight. Since walking was less exhausting than other workouts I was used to (like CrossFit or Bootcamp) and didn’t require any gear, it was easy to stay consistent even through holidays and vacations. Research shows that having a consistent routine is key when it comes to weight loss and weight maintenance. Opting for an exercise program that I enjoy and easily fits into my life has had a bigger impact on my health than attending intense workout classes I dreaded. 

Walking 10,000 steps a day boosted my mood 

Like my weight, my mood used to fluctuate. I would have good days, followed by days of extreme depression that made it hard to get out of bed. After I started walking regularly, I noticed that my good days slowly became more frequent, and my depression was less intense. I attribute much of this improved mood to more time spent walking around my neighborhood’s lakes and parks. Studies have found numerous mental health benefits of time in nature, including stress reduction, improved mood, enhanced cognitive function, and creativity.

Source: Ashley Diego | Dupe

Walking 10,000 steps a day helped me sleep better

Before I started walking 10,000 steps, I used to spend my evenings watching Netflix or scrolling social media. This blue light exposure left me alert and struggling to fall asleep. After replacing my evening screentime with a casual stroll, it was easier for me to doze off. For optimal sleep benefits, I enjoy most of my walks outside. Research has found that sunlight exposure helps regulate the body’s internal clock (circadian rhythm), improving sleep quality.

Can walking 10,000 steps a day improve your digestion?

I suffer from several stomach issues that often leave me bloated and uncomfortable after eating. Walking alone didn’t solve my tummy troubles, but it did make me feel less bloated after meals. Research shows that 10-15 minutes of walking post-meal helps adults who frequently experience bloating feel less bloated. Walking can also help reduce anxiety, which is linked to several GI issues

Stronger relationships 

Americans are dealing with a loneliness epidemic that’s negatively impacting our mental and physical health. One survey found that 61 percent of adults 18 to 25 reported feeling severe loneliness. Furthermore, a recent report from the Surgeon General found that isolation increases your risk of infectious disease, stroke, anxiety, dementia, and heart disease. While walking alone won’t improve loneliness, it does provide the perfect opportunity to connect with others. Many of my walks were spent chatting with my mom or my husband. If I didn’t have anyone to walk with, I’d call up a friend I hadn’t talked to in a while. These frequent conversations made me feel more connected to the people in my life and fostered stronger relationships. 

Is 10,000 steps a day worth it?

In my opinion, it’s a resounding “yes.” Walking 10,000 steps a day for one year has positively impacted my life and changed how I approach fitness. Although I don’t frequent as many structured workout classes as I used to, I feel fitter, happier, and healthier than before starting this challenge. 

Is 10,000 steps a day good enough? While I’ve lost a little muscle mass over the past year, I’ve learned that long, intense workouts aren’t the best option for my body. So, I’ve started including three 20-minute TMAC Fitness kettlebell workouts into my routine. These short strength workouts are helping me regain the muscle I’ve lost over the past year while still supporting my walking goal. TMAC Fitness founder Todd McCullough encourages everyone to reach 10,000-12,000 steps daily and include three brief strength-training sessions wherever they fit into your weekly workout schedule. 

Tips to try it yourself

According to the Mayo Clinic, whether or not 10,000 steps a day is an appropriate goal for you depends on your fitness level and what you want to accomplish. First, find a system of tracking that works best for you. Use a fitness tracker like an Oura Ring or download an app like Steps for a free option. Determine how many steps you’re currently walking daily (the average American walks 3,000-4,000 steps a day) and use it as your baseline. Then, work up to 10,000 steps by adding 500 to 1,000 (or whatever number works with you and your schedule) extra steps daily every two weeks. If you’re already getting more than 10,000 steps daily, aim higher and set your daily step goal to 12,000. But don’t get too caught up in the numbers; the goal is to walk more, in an amount that feels good for you. And if you need some motivation to go the extra mile, try these hacks or press play on these podcast episodes.

Our favorite items for a daily walk

Water Bottle Holder

This water-bottle holder from CALPAK can be held by your hands or worn as a crossbody bag. It’s perfect for holding a large water bottle, has a zipper enclosure for your phone, and extra storage for more.

16 colors available

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Fast and Free Running Belt

If a bag is too bulky for you, opt for a running belt, which holds your essentials such as a card, keys, and your phone without any hassle. This running belt from Lululemon is made of a lightweight moisture-wicking material that hardly feels like you’re wearing anything.

2 colors available

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Sendero Provisions
Cowboy Baseball Hat

We can’t forget about the accessories you’ll need on a daily walk, and a hat is a no-brainer. We love hats with a quirky saying, and this “Cowboy Hat” puts a fun play on western wear, one of our fave trends at the moment.

5 colors available

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Clifton 9 Sneakers

If you’re putting in miles a day, you’re going to need a high quality pair of walking shoes. There’s nothing worse than blisters or sore feet at the end of the day, but with HOKA’s Clifton 9 Sneakers, it literally feels like you’re walking on a cloud. They’re so comfortable, you’re going to want to start wearing these outside of your daily walks.

6 colors available

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Sun Bum
SPF 45 Sunscreen Face Mist

Reapplying SPF throughout your walk is a breeze with this Sun Bum SPF 45 Face Mist. With just a spritz, this light mist acts as a refresher for your makeup and provides ample protection that actually feels good.

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Lip Balm with SPF 30

Lip balm with SPF in it is a game-changer for super sunny walks. You protect your skin with SPF on the daily, so why not your lips, too? This Vacation SPF Lip Balm comes in five delectable different scents, and provides moisture and protection for even the sunniest of days.

5 scents available

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Inspire 3 Fitness Tracker

If you’re not sure about where to start when it comes to tracking your daily walks, opt for a Fitbit Inspire. It’s slim simple, and looks discreet on your wrist while monitoring your heart rate, steps, and sleep habits.

3 colors available

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AirPods Pro

For longer walks, entertainment is a must. That’s why we’d bringing our AirPods are essential in order to listen to a podcast or Sabrina Carpenter’s “Espresso” on repeat.  These AirPods are easy to navigate while staying hands-free, and hit all your bases for a distraction-free hot girl walk.

2 colors available

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Folding Treadmill Walking Pad

Ready to make your steps goal but find it difficult to input it in your schedule? Try out a walking pad. They’re easy to store, allow you to multitask while using it, all from the comfort of your own home. Don’t believe us? Check out our review here.

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